Big Orange On The Rampage

by Will Parrish, March 28, 2013

TheWarbler2

Since Thursday, CalTrans’ destruction along the southern portion of the proposed Willits Bypass route has been unrelenting. The roughly 1.5-mile long and 200 foot wide swath where Big Orange’s contractors’ have been sawing, excavating, and chipping is bracketed by The Warbler’s tree on the south and a newer tree sit in a pine grove roughly 1.5 miles away. A pair of young men scaled these trees into 4×8 foot platforms in the early morning of Monday, March 18th.

Though many of CalTrans’ activities have been clearly illegal, there are neither any regulatory agencies nor any courts, nor any elected bodies, that are standing in the way. The only injunction against CalTrans’ rampage that remains now is the tree sits.

As I write this Tuesday afternoon, CalTrans’ contractors are sawing down oak and madrone trees on the east side of Highway 101 right under The Warbler’s ponderosa pine. Four people have just been arrested after standing in front of the contractor’s chainsaws and machinery, including Naomi Wagner and Ellen Faulkner of Earth First!

A large amount of “vegetation removal,” so-called, has occurred every day since Thursday. That has included destruction of oak trees that are hundreds of years old. Yesterday, CalTrans contractors felled pine trees right next to the tree sitters in the Ponderosa grove. Some of the trees fell within 10 feet of the tree sitters. Simultaneously, the California Highway Patrol dispatched a helicopter to circle around both tree sit areas, gathering some sort of surveillance information.

The chopper was so close to the ground on The Warbler’s end that it kicked up a small dust storm and caused the CHP officers on the ground to throw their arms across their faces to shield their faces.

Indeed, Big Orange’s illegal activities are occurring on the basis of perhaps the single largest mobilization of Highway Patrol officers anywhere in California. At the peak of the operation, there were roughly 60 CHP officers, at least two game wardens on quads, CHP choppers conducting aerial surveillance, round-the-clock police deployments on three different access routes, and a relatively short-lived check-point on East Hill Rd.

Such is the level of opposition to the Bypass, it is clear, that the CHP and CalTrans felt the need for veritable military occupation of Willits, at least of a portion of Willits.

This past Thursday, I woke up beneath the The Warbler’s Ponderosa pine at around 6:50 a.m. I was almost immediately surrounded by California Highway Patrol squad cars. I and the other tree sit supporter on hand were outnumbered by the CHP’s men by roughly 15 to 2. Since then, at any given time, there have been anywhere from 5 to 25 CHP officers stationed in the meadow near DripWorks to guard the site against anywhere from two to ten tree sit supporters.

Eleven people, including me, have been arrested in actions against the Bypass since the police occupation began.

Many of CalTrans’ activities are clearly illegal. Some of the trees their contractors cut on Monday fell within 10 feet of the tree sitters, in contravention of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. CalTrans’ bird surveys, which they are required to conduct under the 1927 Migratory Bird Act Treaty, are incomplete and utterly contradict Big Orange’s Environmental Impact Report.

This past Thursday, at a CalTrans foreman’s instigation, one of their contractors drove a bobcat through an Army Corps of Engineers-designated “jurisdictional wetland” area that CalTrans’ own biologist had marked off as protected with orange tape and pointed out to the foreman only a few minutes before. The contractor’s vehicle then spilled oil into the wetland pool. The entire incident was captured on video which is posted at www.saveourlittlelakevalley.org.

As The Warbler noted to me, “It’s obvious they’re used to getting away with anything they want to, and it’s obvious why they feel that way when you see how many cops there are protecting them.”

Around 100 people attended a Board of Supervisors meeting this morning where Supervisor Pinches sponsored an agenda item to “reaffirm support” for the Bypass. The Supervisors had not yet voted on whether to send the support letter that Pinches proposed as of this writing.

I’ll be reporting in greater detail next week. The opposition to the Bypass has not been vanquished; it seems only to have just begun.

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